Early the next day, the ECOMOG peacekeeping troops threw themselves into the task of setting up their headquarters at the Freeport of Monrovia. Buildings which had been designated had their offices swept clean of litter. Documents found on the floor were put back into office shelves and cabinets. What office furniture there were had already been properly arranged, and those offices which had been looted of their fixtures were fitted with furnishings from other buildings. Doors which had been removed were put back again by a few carpenters among the troops, and the hinges were oiled. The cardboard ceiling, which had been broken into with pieces of strips and plywood dangling over the floor, were refurbished with whatever could be gleaned from the wreckage.
Each ECOMOG contingent had its own buildings and offices, manned by its own troops. The Guineans had theirs, and so did the Nigerians, the Ghanaians, the Sierra Leoneans and the Gambians. But commanders from each contingent had been appointed as mediators, with General Arnold Quainoo of Ghana serving as the force commander.
Now the Freeport of Monrovia had been heavily looted. The air smelled of corpses fed on by dogs, which had grown so fat they seemed to burst. Roaming about the bullet-scarred, quiet and neglected streets of Monrovia, with corpses lying in every direction, these dogs showed little or no fear of anyone. Sometimes they would stand close nearby and give you the cold, penetrating gaze of a hyena. There were television sets, refrigerators, air-conditioners, brand new cars with their windshields broken; shoes, clothes, cooking utensils and stationery; food, furniture, and God knows what else, all lying in the open and in various stages of decay. Most of the walls of the port’s buildings were pockmarked with bullets, and a few had been reduced to rubble. The pavement lay strewn with bullet casings and machine gun cartridges, like words and letters dotting the page of a book. A few shipping containers, still intact with their goods, had been reduced to cinders. An unexploded shell could be seen protruding out of a mound of sand; light poles and power lines were lying all over the pavement. The scene was worse than two elephants engaged in a wrestling match.
When they had buried the corpses in a mass grave, the ECOMOG troops set about erecting along the fence and at the entrances to the Freeport a number of outposts and watchtowers, which were reinforced with sandbags and heavy machine guns. A number of positions could also be seen at troop headquarters. A white flag with ECOWAS logo was raised at the main gate, manned by Gambians and Nigerian peacekeeping soldiers in white helmets.
From the main entrances of the Freeport to the tarmac roads leading toward Somalia Drive, and then to Bushrod Island and central Monrovia, a large number of NPFL fighters, who had erected a number of barricades, stood armed with AK-47 rifles, machine guns and mortars.
In central Monrovia, President Doe and his loyalists, among them a few of his relations and cabinet officials, were besieged at the Executive Mansion. They were in dire straits. They needed arms and ammunition and had been surviving on remnants of food they had taken from nearby shops, stores and supermarkets. But the NPLF had since advanced within the grounds of the University of Liberia, only a stone’s throw from the Executive Mansion, and a few days before the rebels had made a dash for Doe and his loyalists. But though the President and his men were hungry and badly in need of weapons, they were not sitting idle. Reputed to have been trained by the Israelis were Doe’s dreaded Special Forces, SATU (Special Anti-Terrorist Unit), among them the notorious General Tily.
Tily, an elephant hunter turned presidential bodyguard, was believed to possess uncanny powers which made him impervious to bullets. Again and again the rebels came under a hail of sniper fire and were forced to retreat, like the Greeks went fleeing from the walls of Troy. Indeed, it was said that each time the shooting and smoke subsided not one but dozens of NPFL rebels lay dead on the tarmac road.
In the center of the city, like everywhere else, were piles and piles of corpses; all the shops and stores by the roadside had been looted. Every now and then sporadic bursts of gunfire, punctuated by heavy explosions, left columns of smoke rising over Monrovia.
In one of the warehouses which had been chosen to serve as a clinic, several groups of ECOMOG soldiers were hard at work. The rattle of plywood, the banging of hammers, the voices of soldiers talking and laughing among themselves as they went in and out of the building resounded through the edifice. Among the soldiers were a few army doctors and nurses from the various ECOMOG contingents, helping with the arrangement of the clinic.
Among the soldiers in the building was Emeka Obasanjo, a lean, tall, dark-complexioned Nigerian army doctor of about thirty years of age, with close-cropped hair and a slight stoop. Presently he was engaged in stacking a few cartons of surgical gloves at one end of a table in a room set off, as were some of the others, by plywood partitions. He was dressed in army fatigues, with the shirt sleeves rolled to above his elbows, and his trouser cuffs tucked inside his brightly polished boots. Sewn on the right arm of his shirt was a small fabric of the Nigerian flag, with a white field in the middle and a green stripe on both sides. A corporal in the Nigeria army, he had been only a few days serving in the Nigerian peacekeeping force to Liberia and was one of many ECOMOG soldiers on their first peacekeeping operation. On the table in front of him were his white helmet and AK-47 rifle.
When he had finished stacking the boxes, Emeka set off for the warships in the harbor, where a group of soldiers were still busy hauling more equipment. There were the Nigerian, the Ghanaian, the Guinean, the Sierra Leonean and the Gambian peacekeeping forces, all of whom were engaged in the task at hand and working in an atmosphere of brotherhood. Guinean, Sierra Leonean and Gambian soldiers could be seen helping to haul out supplies out of Nigerian and Ghanaian warships, while the Ghanaians and Nigerians were doing the same for the former. Several long lines of men had been formed, beginning at the entrances to the ships and ending at a number of buildings fronting the pier. Bags and boxes of foodstuff and medical equipment, including arms and ammunition, were being handed over from one soldier to another until they made their way into the buildings. But some of the soldiers worked singly, dressed only in a pair of army trousers and t-shirt, their bodies covered with beads of perspiration. They talked and laughed among themselves, and the air sang with a multiplicity of dialects, of pidgin, and of French and English. Hausa and Igbo and Yoruba took on their own distinctive sounds also, as did Creole, Ashanti, Worlo, Soso, Mandingo, and so on. It was as African as the tribal scars on some of the soldiers’ faces. When suddenly a Gambian soldier burst into song, the Nigerians, the Sierra Leoneans, the Ghanaians and the Guineans, not wanting to be left out, responded with their own singing.
Suddenly, at one of the main gates to the Freeport of Monrovia, they heard a man shouting in Liberian accent, followed soon after by a pistol report. Grabbing their rifles, Emeka and a group of ECOMOG soldiers went running. As they approached, the voice of the man shouting in Liberian parlance grew louder and louder and then a few more shots were heard.
President Samuel K. Doe Ponders His Fate
Observing the position of soldiers out in the yard of the Executive Mansion, the rotund, heavily-built figure of President Samuel K. Doe stood by his office window. He was clean shaven and wore a mop of hair only slightly sprinkled with gray. He was dressed in full military fatigues, well-polished black boots and had a 45. Caliber pistol strapped to his hip. He was thirty-nine. The soldiers in the yard below were mostly the president’s Special Anti-Terrorists Units (SATU). With these were remnants of regular AFL soldiers, many of whom had deserted the army from the start of the war. They were heavily armed. On the rooftop of the Executive Mansion were crack sniper troops. The only war tank they had in their armory was positioned at the entrance, towards the University of Liberia, only a few yards across the tarred road. At the entrance towards the Ministry of Information Culture
Affairs and Tourism a number of soldiers crouched behind heavy machine guns. Three days ago, these men, numbering a little more than one hundred fifty soldiers, had repelled a wave of NPFL rebels, killing hundreds of the invaders.
The president wished it had been so from the start of the war when the rebels had entered the country through the border with Cote d’Ivoire. At that time, they had been about a hundred rebels who had raided a detached army outpost in the small Nimba County town of Buutou, and withdrawn into the jungle. But that number had swollen when the rebels came back out of the forest and, within a few months, were laying siege to the capital; thanks to General Hezekiah Bowen, the army general whom he had sent to quell the rebellion.
Bowen had retaliated against the population of the region and many innocent people had been shot and their villages burned, which had only served to alienate the local inhabitants, many of whom were from the Gio and Mano tribes. No wonder when the rebels invaded the country, led by Charles Taylor, a former minister of the General Service Agency (GSA), these very tribes, hoping to avenge themselves, had joined the NPLF. Now members of the president’s ethnic group, made up the Krahns, were being haunted and killed.
And the President knew it wouldn’t be long before he capitulated and the Executive Mansion fell to the rebels. Already his men were lacking food, much needed arms and ammunition, and he himself was at times on the verge of starvation. Surely President Tolbert could not have dreamed of a civil war of such magnitude. But then Tolbert had had his sheer of civil disobedience and was dead and gone, along with thirteen of his cabinet officials. And here Doe was, faced with almost the same predicament but on an unprecedented scale – the very man who had ordered the mass execution and slaughter of the ex-president and his cabinet members.
To be cont’d.